(NewsWatch Cameroon)-The National Council of Cameroon Traditional Rulers (CNCTC) and the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) Cameroon, have called on the government to consider customary land rights in the elaboration of the new land reforms.
The call is contained in a memorandum sent to the government by both parties. The memorandum was handed to the Minister of State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure by CNCTC representatives in an audience the former granted officials of the latter in her cabinet on Thursday December 12, 2013 in Yaounde.
The audience was part of activities marking the first edition of the rural land week in Cameroon that was jointly organized by the Centre for Environment and Development and the National council of Cameroon Traditional Rulers.
Among the proposals submitted to government was the revision of the 1974 land tenure ordinance of Cameroon which has become obsolete. For them, going by the 39-year old land law, some cultural practices deprive women and indigenous people from ownership, paving the way for the rich and big multinationals to own greater parcels of land.
In the proposal, CNCTC want land ownership to be equal between men and women. They also want that limits should be placed on the amount of land that can be owned by an individual if the wealthy and influential are to be prevented from totally depriving those who are not so well of. Traditional rulers also want that in each village community, some land parcels should be reserved for community use.
The secretary general of CED, Samuel Nguiffo told the press that land is becoming scarcer in rural areas with several development activities like logging concessions, mining and infrastructural projects coming at a time many communities are eager to have more access to land. Thus, the objective of the organization of the rural land week in Cameroon was to create awareness and stimulate discussion on the importance of the land issue and the need to recognize and promote the land rights of rural communities and their recognition in the new land reforms under elaboration.
The representatives of traditional rulers and CED officials also discussed the proposals with the Network of Parliamentarians for Sustainable Management of Dense and Humid Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPAR).
The hallmark of the rural land week was the organization of a round table conference in Yaounde on Saturday December 14, 2013 with panelists like Prof. Pierre- Etienne Kenfack, law lecturer at the University of Yaoundé II, HRM Mvondo Bruno and Mama Jean Marie traditional rulers and members of the CNCTC and Madam Pa'ah Antoinette of the African Women's Network For Community Forests (REFACOF).
Madam Ndeh Doris of the Bamenda based civil society organization Community Initiative for Sustainable Development (COMINSUD) told NewsWatch that the non-ownership of land by women is a misinterpretation of cultures. “Men have changed cultures to disfavor women”. The activist pointed out that according to the culture and tradition of the North West, women can own but cannot inherit land. “Access rights to land are given to women, not ownership rights”. Thus, in her opinion, only women who are financially able can have access to land.
Prof. Pierre-Etienne Kenfack believes that considering customary land rights in the new land reforms of Cameroon is an obligation. The university don however says, customary rights should not be confused with the powers of a traditional ruler. “Customary laws are rights that a community considers as obligatory and these laws are different from the powers of a traditional ruler”.
‘Land ownership shouldn’t be a blank check’- Fon Chafah
According to HRH Fon Chafah XI of Bangolan in the Northwest region who is also secretary general of the National Council of Cameroon Traditional Rulers (CNCTC), the current land law of Cameroon is discriminatory. He advocated that land ownership should not be a blank check. “Women and minority groups like the pygmies and the Mborroros should own land”.In Chafah’s opinion, traditional rulers are paying attention to the safeguarding of land rights for the less privileged in Cameroon. The current land law Fon Chafah says, allows the rich to grab land for themselves at the expense of the poor. The reality is that with the 1974 law, traditional rulers play a symbolic rule in the attribution of land though the reality is often different. He wishes that the government should take the proposals of traditional rulers into consideration in the elaboration of the new land reforms.
By Ndi Eugene Ndi in Yaounde